HHS proposes changes to HIPAA privacy rule to improve care coordination

A doctor types on a computer
Proposed changes to the HIPAA Privacy Rule will facilitate greater family and caregiver involvement in the care of individuals experiencing emergencies or health crises, the Department of Health and Human Services said. (Getty/andrei_r)

The Trump administration proposed changes Thursday to data privacy rules to give patients more access to their health information and improve care coordination.

The changes to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule will support patients' engagement in their care, remove barriers to coordinated care and reduce regulatory burdens on the healthcare industry, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) said in a release.

The proposed changes (PDF) to the HIPAA Privacy Rule also will facilitate greater family and caregiver involvement in the care of individuals experiencing emergencies or health crises and enhance flexibilities for disclosures in emergency or threatening circumstances, such as the opioid and COVID-19 public health emergencies, HHS said.

The agency also aims to reduce administrative burdens on HIPAA-covered healthcare providers and health plans while continuing to protect individuals’ privacy interests regarding their health information.

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“Our proposed changes to the HIPAA Privacy Rule will break down barriers that have stood in the way of commonsense care coordination and value-based arrangements for far too long,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar in a statement. “As part of our broader efforts to reform regulations that impede care coordination, these proposed reforms will reduce burdens on providers and empower patients and their families to secure better health.”

The American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) issued a statement praising the proposed changes for strengthening the individual right of access under HIPAA.

"We are also pleased it seeks to clarify how an individual’s right to direct their protected health information (PHI) to a third party should be treated. In certain instances, this has led to delays in individuals being able to access their medical record," Wylecia Wiggs Harris, Ph.D., CEO of AHIMA.

"We also look forward to reviewing OCR’s proposal to clarify the scope of covered entities’ ability to disclose PHI to social service agencies or community-based support programs. As social determinants of health increasingly become a priority for many providers, the sharing of information across clinical and non-clinical settings may include PHI. This makes it critically important to prioritize the privacy, security, and confidentiality of this sensitive information," Harris said.

HHS Deputy Secretary Eric Hargan said the proposed changes are part of HHS' ongoing work under the Regulatory Sprint to Coordinated Care to eliminate unnecessary regulatory barriers blocking patients from getting better care.

"These proposed changes reduce burden on providers and support new ways for them to innovate and coordinate care on behalf of patients, while ensuring that we uphold HIPAA’s promise of privacy and security," Hargan said.

Comments on the proposed rule are due in February.